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The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman

The Magicians: A Novel (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Lev Grossman

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4,3583651,133 (3.47)1 / 348
Title:The Magicians: A Novel
Authors:Lev Grossman
Info:Viking Adult (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, read in 2012

Work details

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009)

  1. 151
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (middled, kraaivrouw)
  2. 133
    The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (Jannes)
    Jannes: The Magicians wolud not exist if it wasn't for the Narnia books, and is really a kind of loving deconstruction of Lewis' work. What could be better than giving the books that inspired it a try?
  3. 101
    Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (catfantastic)
    catfantastic: Read the short story "The Problem of Susan" included in this collection.
  4. 127
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (sonyagreen)
    sonyagreen: It's like HP goes to college, complete with drinking and sex.
  5. 117
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Magic is real in a world we recognize--Napoleonic England and contemporary New York.
  6. 40
    The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume I by Diana Wynne Jones (Anonymous user)
  7. 20
    Little, Big by John Crowley (rarm)
    rarm: Fairy tale worlds that reveal a hidden darkness.
  8. 32
    Among Others by Jo Walton (Jannes)
    Jannes: Both are fantasy or fantasy-sih books about fantasy readers and how the stories you read hape you and affect your sense of the world.
  9. 65
    American Gods by Neil Gaiman (marvas)
    marvas: A comparable mix of the fantastic and the all too real, proving fantasy can be an adult genre.
  10. 10
    Bedtime Story by Robert J. Wiersema (ShelfMonkey)
  11. 10
    The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (rnmcusic)
  12. 65
    Harry Potter Box Set (Books 1-7) by J. K. Rowling (elleeldritch)
    elleeldritch: An adult version of Harry Potter (and Narnia), albeit with a different (but still interesting) magic scheme.
  13. 10
    The Silver Nutmeg: The Story of Anna Lavinia and Toby by Palmer Brown (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both describe the reflections of certain pools of water as windows onto other realities. The Silver Nutmeg, however, is much less dark and aimed at younger readers.
  14. 10
    The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits (BeckyJG)
  15. 10
    The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (Anonymous user)
  16. 21
    How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (lobotomy42)
    lobotomy42: Similar combination of a genre setting, an unlikeable protagonist, and an inward-looking plot.
  17. 22
    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (vnovak)
  18. 56
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling (kaledrina)
    kaledrina: Older YAs and above. Really for late teens and adults. Potter meets Narnia meet sex drugs and rock n roll.
  19. 35
    Watchmen (Absolute Edition) by Alan Moore (Jannes)
    Jannes: Okay, I know it seems somewhat of a stretch, but the Magicians actually tries to do with fantasy fiction what Watchmen does with superhero comics: twists it around and looks at it from a completely different angle to try to find out what it is really all about.… (more)
  20. 13
    Sir Apropos of Nothing by Peter David (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both take fantasy conventions and make a fool of them. They also have protagonists that are self-centered. I didn't care for either one for the same reasons, so if you like one you'll probably like the other!

(see all 21 recommendations)


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Showing 1-5 of 365 (next | show all)
It's impossible to review The Magicians this late in the game without talking about all the buzz it got. "Harry Potter for adults", mostly, which made me steer well clear - Harry Potter is Harry Potter for adults, and anyone saying otherwise is a snobbish killjoy. (That's not saying anyone who doesn't like it is, just that anyone who sneers at adults reading it is.) What that sentence is trying to get at, I think, is that The Magicians is very much a post-Potter novel; the characters get the same secret admission to a secret school of magic, except they're eighteen rather than ten, and Brakebills is a college rather than a boarding school like Hogwarts.

I don't think that's most of why The Magicians gets the "for adults" tag, though. It gets that because there isn't a shred of hope or joy in the novel, and there's a line of thought that "adults" must seek out darkness and grief without relief in their reading, because that's "realistic" and that anything less uniformly dark is "escapism". Yes, reality has pain, and boredom, and people failing each other and hurting each other deliberately and accidentally - it also has joy, and beauty, and love, but none of those are present here. Quentin Coldwater, the main character, is never happy throughout the book. While "finding the gateway to the magical land will not bring you happiness" has great potential as theme for a novel, "there's no such thing as happiness for anyone ever", which is closer to the tone of The Magicians, leaves me flat.

Despite all that, the ending - after the Potter bit, after the Narnia bit, when Quentin has returned to the mundane world and is attempting to heal (though he's still, being Quentin, bored and joyless in his high-paying do-nothing job), I found myself wanting to read the sequel - fortunately for me, if not for Grossman, my edition included the first chapter of the sequel, which rapidly cured me of that notion.

(Spoilers for the first chapter Book 2:) Quentin and companions - I can't call them "friends" when they've never seemed to care for each other - are kings and queens in Narnia Fillory, hunting a prophetic hare. The chapter ends with the hare prophesying death, disappointment, and despair. Death I'd expect, but even more disappointment and despair? I'll pass. ( )
  lorax | Aug 12, 2014 |
I love, love this quote from "The Magicians":

"Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: There's nothing else. It's here and you better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever."

But sadly that's all I loved about the book. I wanted so much to like it, a darker, adult, version of "Harry Potter"? Sign me up! But what seemed great in theory, ended up being a crippling depressing narrative with an even worse protagonist. Grossman, I will say is a talented writer, his book, unfortunately is just not my cup of tea. ( )
1 vote prairiedances | Aug 6, 2014 |
I listened to "The Magicians" on audiobook and the reader was fairly good. This is a Harry Potter mixed with Narnia type book which follows the admission of a 17-year-old into a secret college that teaches real magic. The influences of Harry Potter and the world of Narnia were very transparent in this novel, which became distracting, particularly in the last section of the story. I was confused by the intended audience of this book? As a fantasy novel, it seemed to be a young adult novel but the students used alcohol and sometimes drugs heavily in this novel, and were encouraged to drink by their professors!? Not really a positive message here. There were also quite a few sex scenes in the story and frequent references to nakedness and body parts, which wasn't really what I wanted my teen son to be hearing on our road trip. Despite it's limitations, including some parts of the plot which were left hanging, I thought it was engaging and interesting overall. ( )
  voracious | Jul 28, 2014 |
Well, the first half of The Magicians was interesting enough if you excuse the glaring theft of certain elements from the classic Chronicles of Narnia and also the Harry Potter series (mind you, I haven't actually read HP and I'm not sure if I ever will!) Just over half way through the book the cohesion between the first and the second halves seems to crumble and the last 100 pages or so were the most disappointing for me as I felt the author had begun to run out of ideas and just wanted to wrap up the story as quickly as possible.

I would say that this book is generally readable, it could be much better but it's certainly something you might pick up at a train station or airport and read during a long journey. ( )
  pcollins | Jul 27, 2014 |
Review Posted from Tenacious Reader: http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2014/07/08/the-magicians-by-lev-grossman/

The Magicians by Lev Grossman is one of the most divisive, marmite books I have come across. Love it or hate, it usually gets a reaction. So, no need to keep you in suspense, I fall on the love side of the fence here. I realize the book is not perfect, but for me, it was a great read.

A common claim with this book is that it is Harry Potter meets Narnia. I suppose I can see where they are coming from since this is a school to learn magic. And the Narnia reference comes into play as well. But just because a book has some basic similarities in the general blurb does not mean the books are at all the same type of read. So, if you have break down the book like that, I think I’d have to throw a little Catcher in the Rye as well.

Even in Harry Potter’s darkest days, he never achieves the level of depression, self-doubt, and angst, etcetera that Quentin Coldwater feels. Also, this is college. And not the college that the Hogwarts kids would likely go to either. It has sex, drugs, and alcohol to help feed the angst. The level of angst and Quentin’s dark state of mind is quite often the chief complaint for those that fall on the non-love side of this book. I actually quite enjoyed it. I like downtrodden protagonists and I relate to characters that are not all sunshine and rainbows.

But there’s more to love here than just the depressed antagonist. I really enjoyed reading a fantasy book that has characters I could relate to, people from our world that have suddenly found themselves in a world of magic. Then they are tasked with learning it, but not in a wand waiving, Harry Potter kind of way. There are some scary lessons and some rather bizarre ones as well.

And then there is the Narnia comparison. The alternate world (Fillory) that the students find themselves in turns out to be the land from children’s books that Quentin still obsesses over. Fillory is such a contrast to the students’ regular lives, both before and during their time at Brakesbill. It lets the reader also see a different side of our protagonist. Also, the contrast of this fairy tale setting and that of the angsty college life at Brakesbill is rather fun and interesting.

So, love it or hate it, you’re bound to have an opinion on this one, and the only way to find out for yourself is to read it. Hopefully you like, but, if not, well, then you’ll know. ( )
1 vote tenaciousreader | Jul 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 365 (next | show all)
This isn't just an exercise in exploring what we love about fantasy and the lies we tell ourselves about it -- it's a shit-kicking, gripping, tightly plotted novel that makes you want to take the afternoon off work to finish it.
added by lampbane | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Oct 20, 2009)
It’s the original magic — storytelling — that occasionally trips Grossman up. Though the plot turns new tricks by the chapter, the characters have a fixed, “Not Another Teen Movie” quality. There’s the punk, the aesthete, the party girl, the fat slacker, the soon-to-be-hot nerd, the shy, angry, yet inexplicably irresistible narrator. Believable characters form the foundation for flights of fantasy. Before Grossman can make us care about, say, the multiverse, we need to intuit more about Quentin’s interior universe.
Somewhat familiar, albeit entertaining... Grossman's writing is intelligent, but don't give this one to the kids—it's a dark tale that suggests our childhood fantasies are no fun after all.
added by Shortride | editPeople, Sue Corbett (Aug 31, 2009)
Grossman has written both an adult coming-of-age tale—rife with vivid scenes of sex, drugs, and heartbreak—and a whimsical yarn about forest creatures. The subjects aren’t mutually exclusive, and yet when stirred together so haphazardly, the effect is jarring. More damaging still is the plot, which takes about 150 pages to gain any steam, surges dramatically in the book’s final third, and then peters out with a couple chapters left to go.
added by Shortride | editBookforum, Michael Shaer (Aug 14, 2009)
Grossman, Time magazine's book critic and a frequent writer on technology, clearly has read his Potter and much more. While this story invariably echoes a whole body of romantic coming-of-age tales, Grossman's American variation is fresh and compelling. Like a jazz musician, he riffs on Potter and Narnia, but makes it his own.

Vladimir Nabokov once observed, "The truth is that great novels are great fairy tales." "The Magicians" is a great fairy tale, written for grown-ups but appealing to our most basic desires for stories to bring about some re-enchantment with the world, where monsters lurk but where a young man with a little magic may prevail.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lev Grossmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bramhall, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

--William Shakespeare, The Tempest
For Lily
First words
Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.
He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog. pg 107
Space was full of angry little particles.  212
He had no interest in TV anymore - it looked like an electronic puppet show to him, an artificial version of an imitation world that meant nothing to him anyway. Real life - or was it a fantasy life? whichever one Brakebills was - that was what mattered, and that was happening somewhere else.
No one would come right out and say it, but the worldwide magical ecology was suffering from a serious imbalance: too many magicians, not enough monsters.
"Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink," he said. "Though I guess that presupposes that there is a wine I wouldn't drink."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0670020559, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, August 2009: Mixing the magic of beloved children's fantasy classics (from Narnia and Oz to Harry Potter and Earthsea) with the sex, excess, angst, and anticlimax of life in college and beyond, Lev Grossman's Magicians reimagines modern-day fantasy for grownups. Quentin Coldwater lives in a state of perpetual melancholy, privately obsessed with his childhood books about the enchanted land of Fillory. When he’s admitted to the surreptitious Brakebills Academy for an education in magic, Quentin finds mastering spells is tedious (and love is even more fraught). He also discovers his power has thrilling potential--though it's unclear what he should do with it once he's moved with his new magician cohorts to New York City. Then they discover the magical land of Fillory is real and launch an expedition to use their powers to set things right in the kingdom--which, naturally, turns out to be a much murkier proposition than expected. The Magicians breathes life into a cast of characters you want to know--if the people you want to know are charismatic, brilliant, complex, flawed magicians--and does what Quentin claims books never really manage to do: "get you out, really out, of where you were and into somewhere better. " Or if not better, at least a heck of a lot more interesting. --Mari Malcolm

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:52 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

As a senior in high school Quentin Coldwater became preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. After graduating from college and being admitted into a highly exclusive, secret society of magic in upstate New York, he makes a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin's fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined for his childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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